On Friday, the University announced the selection of Mark Schlissel as its 14th president. While some may rejoice at this choice, I received the news lukewarmly. This is not because I doubt President-elect Schlissel’s qualifications, but rather because I am disappointed at how the selection committee simply played it safe.
By “safe,” I mean that they chose someone who will understand how to operate the giant that is the University of Michigan Health System, someone who understands how to continue bringing in research grants and someone who will uphold the University’s commitment to academic excellence.
On the other hand, I share some students’ dissatisfaction that the selection committee did not make a bold choice that signifies a readiness to challenge the status quo and recommit our University to the public mission. Students dreamed of a president who would be ready to embrace what #BBUM is trying to achieve, tackle the complexity of health and wellness issues on campus and display the moral obligation to commit the University to social justice and sustainability beyond the low-hanging fruits.
Even though students were excluded from the selection committee this time, we were still holding out hope that our voices would be heard at the student forum organized by the presidential search committee back in September 2013. However, after being told by the search firm that at the time of the student forum, candidate interviews were already being held, I was skeptical that the regents really cared about our voices. The fact that the issue of sustainability was not even mentioned once in Friday’s announcement despite being featured prominently at the student forum increased my exasperation. Perhaps this is just a matter of miscommunication. If so, the selection committee needs to communicate to us whether they cared. However, if the lack of student input in this entire process is any indication, the Regents don’t seem to care and students have every right to be angry.
We keep saying that higher education will change dramatically over the next few decades. Friday, the regents spoke loud and clear that they are content maintaining the status quo rather than being bold and responding to student demands. As my friend remarked, the University could have done amazing things with this opportunity. It didn’t.
While my immense disappointment is directed at the regents and the selection committee, I withhold my judgment of President-elect Schlissel until he articulates his vision. In fact, his record at Brown shows a willingness to work with students, and his remarks on affordability and access are commendable. I hope he proves all my doubts and concerns unfounded and that in a year’s time, I will be able to look back and claim that this viewpoint is no longer relevant.
Chirapon Wangwongwiroj is an University alum.